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Small Business Lessons from Joe Exotic

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No. 1 on Netflix this week was the series “Tiger King,” documenting the real life story of Joe Maldonado, a.k.a. Joe Exotic, and his private zoo business. The series is 100 percent not safe for work, so don’t watch it at the office, but it does provide compelling examples of what NOT to do as a business owner.

Don’t Lose Your Passion

When Joe started his Zoo in rural Oklahoma, it was all about big cat rescue. It was obvious he loved the animals. He attracted people to him that shared that passion. As far as a business owner, that is the best thing in the world. Surround yourself with people that share your love. Things headed south when he lost his focus.

Focus on Your Business, Not the Competition

Without giving too much away about the plot, Joe Exotic becomes fixated on destroying one of his competitors. I will stipulate that virtually every person in this show could be institutionalized, but that is no excuse for him (or you) to let the competition dictate the strategy.

When we focus on competition, we’re not focused on our passion. But, it also causes us to react to the wrong things. Your focus should be on YOUR business, YOUR customers, and YOUR team. If you do that, the competition is irrelevant. I’m not saying you ignore what they’re doing; just don’t let them dictate the strategy.

Take Care of Your Team

Spoiler alert, Joe makes his employees eat out of a garbage can, literally. No more details, but Joe treated his team like crap. Many stuck around because of the passion, but in the end, there was no one left because of the mistreatment and mismanagement.

Do What You Do Best

Entrepreneurs are susceptible to shiny object syndrome, a.k.a. always trying something new. I’ve fallen victim to this several times over my business lifetime. It’s not that you can’t do something different, but don’t confuse it with the business that you have. Make anything new stand on it’s own, and treat just like a startup.

Bigger isn’t Always Better

I know that it is trite, but as far as your business is concerned it’s true; bigger isn’t always better. But as Alan Miltz is so fond of saying, “Revenue is vanity, Profit is sanity, and Cash is king.”

Set Your Ego Aside

Many business owners, myself included, struggle with keeping their ego in check. It is easy to get caught up in your own success. In Joe’s case, he became the show, not the animals. I’m not saying you can’t or shouldn’t be a promoter of your passion/cause/business, but you can’t become the reason. You never were the reason, so set your ego down.

Be Careful with whom you Partner

“Tiger King” was full of bad partnerships, business and personal. Entrepreneurs are drawn to each other like moths to the flame and when we get together and start brainstorming, you might hear someone say, “Hold my beer!”

Often, we don’t really consider whom we really are choosing. Most of the time, two visionary entrepreneurs don’t make a good combination, especially if there is no one to execute on the idea. Try testing the relationship, think of it like you’re dating. Then you can build as the relationship grows naturally, and you’re not stuck trying to extricate yourself from a disaster.

The lessons I learned from this show have left me wondering, what other shows are you streaming? What lessons can you learn from them? Reach out to us on Facebook to let us know about the moments of epiphany you’ve experienced.


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